Mad Men Series Finale Recap: What Happened to Don Draper and Everyone Else (Spoilers)

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the Mad Men Series finale
After seven critically acclaimed seasons, Mad Men aired its final episode on Sunday, May 17.  Courtesy of AMC

It was the end of an era Sunday night, as Mad Men at last came to the end of its seven-season run. The ’60s are over, the Sterling Cooper partners are scattered (if not deceased), and the iconic falling silhouette from the show’s credits has finally hit bottom. But did he land on his feet, or explode on impact? Here’s what happened as we caught up with our favorite ad men (and women) for the very last time.

Exit interviews

Don’s cross-country journey has gone on so long that not even Roger Sterling (John Slattery) can cover for him anymore, which means that Meredith the Delightful Secretary (Stephanie Drake) is out of a job. And she’s not the only one leaving the company: After last week’s setup, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is bound for Wichita, Kansas, where an enormous paycheck, a private jet, and the promise of starting over with Trudy (Alison Brie) await. For closure’s sake, we see him pay one last visit to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) before he leaves, so that he can entrust her with the care of his cactus (not a sexual euphemism) and we can all appreciate how their relationship has developed over the course of seven seasons to end here, in a place of real mutual fondness and respect. Also in this scene: The last onscreen appearance of Harry Crane. Unlike Pete or Peggy, he remains as he has always been: A jackass, seen here chomping on cookies.

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Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell and Rich Sommer as Harry Crane Courtesy of AMC

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Can Joan have it all?

After taking the money and running last week, Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) is all set to spend the rest of her life in luxurious retirement, living it up with boyfriend Richard (Bruce Greenwood). But after a meeting with Ken Cosgrove opens the door to a new opportunity for her in the video production biz, Joan discovers that she’s as hungry for a career as ever — and we discover that Richard doesn’t like how much Joan likes to work. It’s not long (literally, in screen time it’s like 60 seconds) before she’s forced to choose: the job, or the man. We do hope Richard didn’t let the door hit him in his perfectly formed behind on the way out.

mad men finale - christina hendricks and Bruce Greenwood
Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris and Bruce Greenwood as Richard Burghoff Courtesy of AMC

Answer: Nope. But Peggy can!

After making a heck of an entrance at McCann Erickson last week, Peggy is still on a roll: confident, capable, and taking no shizz from the snooty dame in charge of distributing accounts. And while an offer of partnership with Joan’s new company seems like it might knock her off the advertising track, it’s really just a red herring so that she can get drunk and delightfully spar with Stan (Jay R. Ferguson.) And that, of course, is how we get to the best and cheesiest moment of the finale that fans couldn’t dare to hope for: Stan confessing to Peggy that he’s in love with her, and Peggy confessing in turn that she loves him, too. It’s so sweet and exciting, the two of them pretty much completely forget about the part where Don Draper just called, and he may or may not be on the actual verge of suicide in California.

mad men finale - Jay R. Ferguson and elisabeth moss
Jay R. Ferguson as Stan Rizzo and Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson Michael Yarish/AMC

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And speaking of Don…

Mad Men has always been about Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his very particular journey, which started out metaphorical but has lately turned physical, too. Heading steadily westward, he stops in Utah long enough to take up desert drag racing and put yet another notch on his whittled-to-a-toothpick bedpost, but a phone call to Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and the news of Betty’s terminal cancer diagnosis brings reality crashing back in. He has a tearful, long-distance goodbye with his ex-wife (January Jones) — who appears without makeup in this scene for what seems like the first time in the show’s history — and then reacts to this news in typical Don Draper fashion, e.g. getting blitzed out of his mind.

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January Jones as Betty Francis Courtesy of AMC

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But this is all just a prelude for Don’s arrival at his final destination: California, and the home of Anna Draper’s niece Stephanie (Caity Lotz). (Note: Somewhere between crossing the state line and arriving on her doorstep, he also sheds his adopted pseudonym; to Stephanie, he’s Dick Whitman.) And it’s here, at the apex of his identity crisis, that he finds himself in the very un-Don-Draper environment of a hippie retreat. There’s yoga and tai chi and meditation; there’s also a lot of talk about feelings, which is how Don finds himself watching Stephanie break down in tears over the mess she’s made of her life.

“All I do is screw up,” she sobs. Her young life is a laundry list of should’ves, things she couldn’t do and couldn’t be. And when Don suggests she deal with her problems the Dick Whitman/Don Draper way — to move forward, and just leave it all behind — she calls his bluff: it doesn’t work that way.

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Don finally seems to realize that it hasn’t worked that way for him, either.

This is when Don finally calls Peggy, seeking her out in the same way that she used to seek him out.

“I messed everything up,” he says despondently as he lists his failures. “I took another man’s name and made nothing of it.”

Peggy insists that this isn’t true and that he can come home — and work on Coke! Wouldn’t he like that? But Don hangs up, and Peggy is (understandably) distracted by realizing that she’s in love with Stan. Instead, Don sits in a catatonic slump for awhile before being dragged to another group therapy session where he listens as another man describes himself as invisible. This guy has never felt seen, never felt acknowledged, which makes him basically the anti-Don-Draper. But for Don, this is a Moment — and when he embraces the anti-Don and breaks down in tears, you can see that it was meant to be, because the palettes of the two men’s outfits are in perfect harmony. (Ahem.)

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Jon Hamm as Don Draper Justina Mintz/AMC

Welcome to the ’70s

What becomes of Don? We’ll get to that part in a moment. But first, a montage: It’s November of 1970. Joan is running a production company out of her apartment, finally her own boss. Roger is in Paris, enjoying champagne and lobsters with Marie Calvet (Julia Ormond), having found his ideal match at last (who just happens to be Don’s former mother-in-law). Betty is still alive, and still smoking, as Sally busies herself in the kitchen chez Francis. Peggy is working late into the night, with Stan by her side.

And Don? He’s on a hilltop in California, om-ing to greet a new day. Reinvented once again. Inspired once again. And when the camera cuts from Don Draper’s serene face to that world-famous Coke commercial — the one about teaching the world to sing, buying it a Coke, and keeping it company — you don’t really need Mad Men to tell you who came up with that bit of advertising genius, do you?

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